The Supreme Court has prohibited the sale of firecrackers in New Delhi and NCR region and daggers have been drawn. The noise on twitter post the decision has been shriller than any of the crackers sold during Diwali season can produce. For many, like every other debate in our country today, this has become a Hindu identity versus other religions. There are others who are pitching 364 other days against this 1 day and defending the sale and usage of fire-crackers. There are also people who are rationally calling for bans on a lot of other pollutants that are more poisonous and hence more harmful. I stand by the last lot.
The question of Hindu Identity
The question of violating Hindu identity is completely misplaced. While some political parties in various parts of the country have indulged in unabashed minority appeasement in the past, this is not another such instance. Literally, ‘Deepavali’ means glowing lamps kept in rows – a queue or an ordered arrangement of lamps that burn by the virtue of oil. It is supposed that this is how the country celebrated the homecoming of Sri Rama after conquering Lanka and reuniting with Sita. In the spiritual sphere, a glowing lamp flickering in silence on the night of Amavasya (dark moon) holds a significant place. On the other hand, anything that violates the nature, disturbs the harmony of lives, and amounts to noise is antithetical to the spirituality espoused by the Hindu tradition. Almost all the prayers in the Hindu tradition end with the chanting of Om Shantih Shantih Shantih (Om Peace! Peace! Peace!). I don’t know of any firecracker company that is manufacturing to add to the peace that a Hindu prays for in the world.
The question of 364 days to 1
There might be some hypocrisy associated with certain people cheering the ban on firecrackers. They are aplenty who pollute the environment for the entire year and jump on to celebrate these bans with loud hashtags on social media. However, there are also people who do their bit to save our environment for the entire year or have been involved in such activities and hence want a ban of firecrackers. For them, this is one more victory in their mission. They are mostly unrepresented on social media because while so called custodians of culture and environment indulge in 24/7 debates on twitter, this lot has some real work to do on the ground. The 364 days to 1 debate is irrelevant to them. Also, just because something wrong is done for the entire year, it shouldn’t be prevented for one day is an argument that wouldn’t stand its ground once we take the entire ecosystem of firecracker manufacturing into account. Child labour, frequent accidents, and the disposal problem have been thrown at our society so many times that we have become too thick-skinned now to get affected.
Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and the question of disposal
If you have a soft corner for the BJP and have been counting the initiative of Clean India Mission as one of the achievements of the present Government and yet are up in arms against this ban, you need to think this through. Firecrackers pollute all the components of our ecosystem simultaneously – air, water, and land. Add to this the noise that is way beyond the acceptable limits. Government has set noise limits to 55dB during daytime and 45dB during night for residential areas. Firecrackers can produce noise as high as 125dB. If you want to visualize that, think about the sound of a military jet aircraft taking off. Diwali becomes a night of tyranny for the diseased, for the old, for the infants, and for the animals. The petitioners in the 2015 case against firecrackers were three infants – Arjun Gopal, Aarav Bhandari, and Zoya Rao Bhasin. They wanted to exercise their right to clean air. In case you smell an anti-Hindu conspiracy here too, you would be relieved to know that they had sought a ban on burning of post-harvest crop residue too and had made an appeal for Bharat-V emission norms for vehicles. You might as well want to think about the disposal of spent or burnt firecrackers and who takes care of the colourful, vibrant fire-rockets once they have landed.
The question of social equality
Firecrackers are essentially a child subject. We are bringing them up in a culture where festivals are to be celebrated with firecrackers and enjoyed. There are clamours from a few social media celebrities that happiness has been snatched away from the hands of gullible kids. However, use of firecrackers has only divided our society further and brought out the stark difference between the haves and have-nots at least once every year. While the affluent can afford to burn money with great pomp and noise, a poor family earns money to meet its most basic necessities of life. While the have-nots can spend a rupee to buy a lamp and celebrate the festival with the purest of joys ever known to man, an inspired kid demanding firecrackers either becomes an embarrassment or prods them to pour their sweat and blood into flames. That we have proactively encouraged such a culture where a child’s joy is intertwined with burning money rather than saving it should be a matter of shame for our society.
Four out of five world’s most polluted cities are in India and Delhi ranked 11th in 2016. Delhi was the world’s most polluted city in 2014. These rankings were released by the World Health Organization. In every cubic metre of air, the PM2.5 concentration stood at 122 microgram. These particulate matters cause lung cancer, heart strokes, and various other air-borne diseases. This means if you are living in New Delhi and would like to start a family there, your baby runs various health risks right when they start breathing outside the womb. Thinking of that, wombs are no longer safe either. I hope your baby grows up hale and hearty. However, one day when he asks you the question – ‘what did you do to ensure clean air for me?’ I hope that “we fought against the Supreme Court ban on firecrackers on twitter” is not your answer then!